What if I’m Undocumented, Homeless, or in Foster Care?

This article was originally written for FirstGenerationStudent.com, now a part of ImFirst.org.

If You’re Undocumented

If you are an undocumented student you can attend college. There is no federal or state law that prohibits your admission to any U.S. college (http://professionals.collegeboard.com/guidance/financial-aid/undocumented-students). Some colleges, however, may require you to submit proof of citizenship or legal residency, so it is important that you research the different colleges to which you are applying so that you know their policy in advance. Many colleges admit undocumented students but may treat you as an international student. This means that you will pay a higher tuition rate, especially at public institutions, and will be ineligible for federal and state aid.

Some states have passed what is called the DREAM Act. If you live in one of these states, you’d qualify for in-state tuition and fees at public colleges and universities. There are some eligibility requirements, such as having attended high school in that state for a number of years. Make sure you meet all the conditions to qualify for in-state tuition. As of 2012, the states that have passed the DREAM Act are California, Illinois, Kansas, Maryland, Nebraska, New Mexico, Texas, Utah, Washington and Wisconsin. In some of these states, you also may qualify for state financial aid.“In states that have passed the DREAM Act, undocumented students qualify for in-state tuition and fees at public colleges and universities.”

Since you won’t be eligible for federal student aid (including loans), and probably won’t be eligible for most state aid, it’s important to know your other financing options. Be aware of institutional aid policies—call the admissions office at the schools you are applying to understand what aid is available to you from the school. Also, be sure to check out the Educators for Fair Consideration website for additional information about legal and financial needs for undocumented students who aspire to college. In addition, The College Board’s Resource Guide for undocumented students provides different websites with scholarship search engines specific to your needs.

If You’re an Unaccompanied, Homeless Youth

According to the National Association for the Education of Homeless Children and Youth (NAEHCY), unaccompanied homeless youth are:

“Young people who lack safe, stable housing and who are not in the care of a parent or guardian. They may have run away from home or been forced to leave by their parents. Unaccompanied youth live in a variety of temporary situations, including shelters, the homes of friends or relatives, cars, campgrounds, public parks, abandoned buildings, motels, and bus or train stations.”

If you are under the age of 24, for financial aid purposes you are usually considered dependent, which means you will need the income information of your parents to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). But if you fall into the definition of an unaccompanied homeless youth as stated above, it may be impossible for you to get that documentation.

There are now questions on the FAFSA that try and recognize that even though you are under the age of 24, you are independent for financial aid purposes. This allows you to fill out the FAFSA without parental information. When filling out the FAFSA, pay very close attention to the dependency questions—these are the set of questions that begin, “Were you born before January 1st, 19XX?” Depending on how you answer these questions, you may be presented with the following questions:

  • At any time on or after July 1, 20XX, did your high school or school district homeless liaison determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 20XX, did the director of an emergency shelter or transitional housing program funded by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless?
  • At any time on or after July 1, 20XX, did the director of a runaway or homeless youth basic center or transitional living program determine that you were an unaccompanied youth who was homeless or self-supporting and at risk of being homeless?

Answer these questions accordingly to ensure your FAFSA is processed correctly. (Get more tips about how to fill out the FAFSA from NAEHCY’s “FAFSA Tips for Unaccompanied Youth Without Stable Housing“.)  Also be sure to check in with the admissions and financial aid offices where you are applying so that they know your unique situation and how best to answer your questions and meet your needs.

If You’re in Foster Care

As previously stated, in most circumstances, if you are under the age of 24, you will need your parents’ tax and income information to fill out the FAFSA. If you are in foster care, this information cannot be obtained. There is a special question on the FAFSA that will help determine whether you’ll need to fill out parental information. It comes in a string of questions that begins with, “Were you born before January 1st, 19XX?”

At any time since you turned age 13, were both your parents deceased, were you in foster care or were you a dependent or ward of the court?

You answer yes if:

  • You had no living parent (biological or adoptive), even if you are now adopted; or
  • You were in foster care, even if you are no longer in foster care today; or
  • You were a dependent or ward of the court, even if you are no longer a dependent or ward of the court today.

Answer these questions accordingly to ensure your FAFSA is processed correctly. Again, be sure to check in with the admissions and financial aid offices where you are applying so that they know your unique situation and how best to answer your questions and meet your needs.